LIBERAL ARTS EDUCATION AND CLIMATE CHANGE
Christopher Walker has developed a course in climate fiction at Colby College, a private liberal arts college founded in 1831. Colby is part of the US tradition of liberal arts education that has survived the trend for institutions of higher education to be driven by economic imperatives towards more strongly focused vocational education—that is education that qualifies one for a job.
Founded by a Christian philanthropist, Gardner Colby. Colby College, located in Waterville, Main US, Colby has a student enrolment of around 1800 students and specialises in student-driven flexible course design, internships and study-abroad programs and features a strong collection of American art in its Colby College of Museum of Art. It was the first college-based anti-slavery society founded in the US, establishing its progressive political stance. While its focus is on the liberal arts and humanities, it also allows students to explore courses in biology and chemistry, including ecology and evolution, computational biology, cell and molecular biology and environmental science.
Walker’s course texts, readings, film and media provides a guide to how to explore climate change issues through fiction. Unlike the recent film 2042 which explores alternative scenarios to apocalyptic collapse, most fictional approach are dystopian. For example, the Australian film Mad Max: Fury Road is a standout example of dystopian film that has won many awards in the genre. Such films echo themes of violence, despair and devastation—preparing for the worst. Snowpiercer, also on Walker’s course explores the unintended consequences of a failed technological attempt to manage climate change through geo-engineering.
Another important work of fiction dealing with climate change is Clade (2015) by Australian writer, James Bradley. “It is a story of one family in a radically changing world, a place of loss and wonder where the extraoordinary mingles with the everyday. Haunting, lyrical and unexpectedly hopeful, it is the work of a writer in command of the major themes of our times.” As one reviewer says, “A ripe, disturbing work, full of fascination for civilisation’s thin veneer and the appetites that snap against it”. Clade didn’t make it onto Walker’s reading list, but it is highly recommended.
CLIMATE FICTION COURSE DESCRIPTION
Contemporary fiction is now investigating the possibilities and limits of story-telling in the era of global climate change. These works, referred to as “climate fiction” or “cli-fi,” explore humanity’s connection to- and impact upon Earth by asking questions such as: what will human and nonhuman communities look like after sea-level rise, desertification, and biodiversity loss remap our planet?; how might species evolve in response to ecological collapse?; what affects— melancholy, despair, hope—will eulogize a lost home-world?
Reading cli-fi novels, short stories, poetry, and film, this course will situate our texts within the Environmental Humanities, an interdisciplinary field that combines scientific and cultural discourses about the environment with humanistic concerns for social justice. Working through the narrative conventions of the utopian, dystopian, and apocalyptic genres, we will ask how cli- fi not only narrates impending disaster on a global scale but also strives to imagine a more just future, one that combines environmentalism and social equality. These texts will be paired with excerpts from philosophical and ecocritical writings which will aid our development of the humanistic methodologies needed to analyze and appreciate this new genre.
Students are required to purchase the following core texts, which are also available in Colby’s Miller Library:
Kim Stanley Robinson, New York 2140 (ISBN 978-0-316-26234-7) (2017)
Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake (ISBN 978-0-385-72167-7) (2003)
J. G. Ballard, The Drowned World (ISBN 978-0-87140-362-9) (1962)
Amitav Ghosh, The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable (ISBN 978-0-226-52681-2) (2016)
Nathaniel Rich, Odds Against Tomorrow (ISBN 978-1-250-04364-1) (2013)
OTHER RECOMMENDED READINGS
Margaret Atwood, “Time Capsule Found on the Dead Planet” (2009)
Dan Beachy-Quick, “Endangered Species” (2016) Maurice Blanchot, from The Writing of Disaster (1986)
Rosi Braidotti, “Four Theses on Posthuman Feminism” from Anthropocene Feminism (2017)
Dipesh Chakrabarty, “The Climate of History: Four Theses” (2009)
Diane Cook, “The Way the End of Days Should Be” from Man v Nature (2014)
Paul N. Edwards, from A Vast Machine: Computer Models, Climate Data, and the Politics of Global Warming (2010)
Carol Farbotko, “Wishful Sinking: Disappearing Islands, Climate Refugees and Cosmopolitan Experimentation” (2010)
Andreas Hejnol, “Ladders, Trees, Complexity, and Other Metaphors in Evolutionary Thinking” from Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet (2017)
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Fifth Assessment Report (2014)
Donna Haraway, from Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (2016)
Myra J. Hird and Alexander Zahara, “The Arctic Wastes” from Anthropocene Feminism (2017)
Maggie Kainulainen, “Saying Climate Change: Ethics of the Sublime and the Problem of Representation” (2013) Frank Kermode, from The Sense of an Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction (1967)
Lydia Millet, “Zoogoing” (2009)
Alexandra Nikoleris, et al. “Narrating Climate Futures: Shared Socioeconomic Pathways and Literary Fiction” (2017)
Uncertain Commons, Speculate This! (2013)
FILMS AND MEDIA SCREENINGS
“Anthropocene: The Human Age” (http://www.nature.com/news/anthropocene-the-human-age-
The Day After Tomorrow (2004), Dir. Roland Emmerich
Flooded McDonald’s (2010), SUPERFLEX
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), Dir. George Miller
Snowpiercer (2013), Dir. Bong Joon-ho
World Wildlife Fund posters (2012-14)